You are a Minister of the Government of Sudan. What are your reasons for coming to Geneva today ?
I actually came here to take part in the Conference on Landmines. As you have correctly pointed out, I am a Minister in the Government of National Unity of Sudan, but this does not stop me from conducting other business.
The main purpose of my mission to Geneva was to attend this Conference on Landmines. Landmines are a big issue in Sudan. We have been fighting since 1955 and the use of mines dates back to Second World War. In addition, we have had two civil wars during which mines were used. Now there is peace and there is a need to address the matter of mines. Mines deny the use of land and roads. People are coming back to villages containing mines, as well as explosives left over from the war. We have peace, but we cannot have peace with landmines. So, there is an international effort to address the problem of landmines in Sudan, a country that has signed the Mine Ban Treaty.
We have already been taking steps in creating a national mine action authority in Sudan. We have a lot of NGOs-both national and international-working on this issue. As it is a problem that concerns both civil society and the government, we are now working together to address this problem. You cannot carry out any development when there are mines out there. So it is a humanitarian issue and we have received a good international response. I have just launched an appeal to the international community to help us address this problem.
So now you are going to get international help ? From Switzerland ? They have a good international demining centre.
We haven’t received any help from Switzerland yet, even though GICHID (Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining) is based in Geneva. We also have Swiss NGOs working in South Sudan that do not receive any Swiss Government support, such as FSD. They are doing good work, but they are not receiving funds from the Swiss Government, which is now needed.
Everybody is interested in doing business in Sudan these days and in helping Sudan to recover from war. There is a need to support action against mines.
We are aware that there are many Swiss companies that are interested in investing in Sudan. But you cannot invest in a minefield ! You need to make the roads and fields safe for companies to start their investment. So investment and mine action go together.
Do you have any idea how many mines there are ?
Nobody knows exactly the number of mines in Sudan, but the ICRC has estimated the number at between 2 and 2.5 million.
Mines are not the only thing that is killing people. The general legacy of war and abandoned live ammunition are also killing them. It is the issue of danger and not the number of mines that is the most important thing. If even one mine kills one person, people are scared and nobody will go into that area. The important issue is to encourage people to come back to the areas where they were living in the confidence that nothing will kill them.
You said earlier that there are lots of Swiss companies wanting to do business in Sudan. Are you also here to try and make contact with them ?
Well, Sudan, is a very big country with lots of natural resources and we strongly believe in our international connections, especially after the war. The world is becoming one global village, and we would very much appreciate the presence of Swiss companies.
Why only Swiss companies ? What about European ones ?
Of course, Europeans or any other company from any place on Earth that is interested in investing in Sudan. We are creating a very good environment for investment and we need to become involved in the international economy, so as to create a better world for everybody.
What in particular are you looking for ?
It is not easy to say that I need this or that … I can only talk about what my Ministry perceives … Civilization needs roads and one does not travel well through the bush, so communication is the most important thing. Once you have finished with that, you move on to agriculture to provide food ; then clean drinking water for everybody. Other services will follow : education, health, etc.
So, anybody who is interested in energy, roads, communications, education, health and agriculture is welcome. The doors are open for everybody.
From what I have heard, you only have about 10 kilometers of asphalt roads in the whole of South Sudan. Do you have a timeframe for the reconstruction of South Sudan ?
This is a big challenge, both internationally and nationally. I think that Sudan is a virgin country, and it is the right place for anybody to prove their expertise. That is why we are inviting everybody in.
The investors we need are not the modern ones. We need a kind of maverick investor, one who is willing to take risks. We should not forget that we have just come out of a war. There would still be some insecurity, and we need the kind of investors who are not averse to risk. We need people with the same attitude as those who conquered the Wild West of the USA and made it into one of the richest places in the country. This is the kind of investor we need. You will never find a 5-star hotel, but we have the natural resources.
When somebody arrives in Khartoum you see many new buildings, excellent roads, etc. It makes a very positive impression. So are you now concentrating your efforts on the South as well, or will you just keep on developing Khartoum ?
It is not actually only the South that has a problem. Our problems are in the rural areas throughout Sudan. That is where the biggest needs of the population are, not in the capital. So the kind of development we need is one that starts in the rural areas. We have seen what is happening in Khartoum now and we are going to put a stop to that. Investments have to go where the people and the resources are. The kinds of investments we need are not in Khartoum.
Are you also appealing to the international community to assist you in the reconstruction ?
We have appealed before and there have been pledges, but the whole thing still remains a Sudanese problem. It is the way we look at development, the way we encourage others to come and help us that matters, and we have policies on that.
How do you see the situation in Sudan in five years’ time ?
I am optimistic. The problem in Sudan has been a problem of underdevelopment, not only in the South. There are lots of marginalized areas in Sudan and that is why there have been problems in Darfur in Eastern Sudan. The Government of National Unity wants to address all of these problems. This concerns not only a political solution ; you need an economic solution too. There must be justice and equal development of all these areas. That’s the policy we have, and within five years we would like to achieve it.
Recently I spoke with somebody about internally displaced persons and I was told that these people often have no security. Have you started to rebuild institutions of law and order in Sudan, as I presume that during the years of civil war they did not work very well ? How do you view this kind of development ?
No, that is the viewpoint of international NGOs on the problems of internally displaced persons (IDPs). We do not look at it in this way. As far as most of the displaced people are concerned who have taken refuge in Khartoum or elsewhere, we are now saying that the time has come for them to go back home. Most of the NGOs are saying that the IDPs should not go back home until they are provided with schools, hospitals, clean water. These people left their homes when these facilities were not available, so to tell somebody not to go home until these things are provided is a double standard.
Who is going to do this work ? You do not build a school where nobody is living. Somebody has to go back to build the schools and hospitals for them. So the internally displaced must go back home. When they are present again in their villages, this will attract the investments. You do not construct schools unless you know the number of children who are going to attend.
The issue of insecurity is everywhere. The world is an insecure place. The insecurity connected to crime committed by individuals will always be with us, and therefore that should not be a reason preventing people from returning home. When they are home they can organize security for themselves. We need them to form the police service, join law enforcement agencies and become part of the democratic processes, electing their own leaders in the communities, in local governments, etc. These people have to go home and to become part of the process.
So your ministry is encouraging these people to go home ?
Yes, actually I’m in charge of repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons. We are encouraging them to go home.
So how are you encouraging them ?
We are, in fact, working together with international NGOs to transport them home ; they are provided with resources covering their basic needs for a certain period of time. Their lands are there and, as soon as the rains come, they will be able to provide for themselves.
So do you think this problem with IDPs will be solved soon ?
There is very little international support, but the Government of South Sudan gave last months US$24 million to encourage IDPs in Khartoum go back home. They are now moving back in large numbers.
We have about 2 to 3 million IDPs in Khartoum, so most of them are still there. Then we have at least 3 million in neighboring countries. All are returning voluntarily or through organized schemes.
First, we will see what the international community can do. If such assistance is not forthcoming, we will do it on our own.
So, if people stretch out theirs hands to you, you will do it anyway ?
Most of these people have been away for a long time and have survived because of action by NGOs. Most of the NGOs are encouraging these people not to go home. The NGOs should leave our people alone ; let them go home. If the NGOs want to provide for them, let them provide the people with such services in the place where they belong. But they should not discourage them from going home as in the camps they have a lot of problems.
What you are saying is quite serious. You are in fact saying that certain NGOs are deliberately telling these people not to go home.
We have been talking to them, but they deny it. Nevertheless, we have people coming to us saying that this or that NGOs is telling us not to go home. Humanitarian aid has become a business for them-international funds, a job, a comfortable life style-but not all them are humanitarian.
So what do you want from them ?
Many people are fed up with the humanitarian organizations as they have made people reliant on aid. We want the people to go home and become self-reliant. We need these organizations to make people self-reliant.
You are a Minister of the Government of Sudan. What are your reasons for coming to Geneva today ?